May 10, 2014

Review: Juha (1999)

Aki Kaurismäki is a Finnish director who is a master at dry humour. I saw his Finland trilogy a few years ago and loved it. With Juha, Kaurismäki is trying something a little different. It's a black and white silent film that uses intertitles to get the dialogue across. It's based on a novel by Finnish author Juhani Aho and it has already been adapted three times before. What's funny is that the reason why Kaurismäki decided to make this adaptation a silent film is because of actor André Wilms' inability to speak Finnish.

Juha is the story of a farming couple living in the country. Their lives are extremely simple but both appear to be content. Marja loves her husband Juha despite his lame leg and contributes as much as she can to keep things running smoothly on the farm. One day, a man from the city named Shemeikka shows up and needs help to repair his broken down Corvette. While Juha is busy doing what's necessary to help him out, Shemeikka puts the moves on Marja and convinces her that she could do better. He puts it in her head that she should come to the city with him and leave the farming life far behind.

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Genre: comedy, drama, romance
Directed by: Aki Kaurismäki
Produced by: Aki Kaurismäki
Written by: Aki Kaurismäki
Music by: Anssi Tikanmäki
Running time: 78 minutes
Production company: Sputnik
Distributed by: Euro Space, Key Films, Prodifilms, etc.
Country: Finland
Language: Finnish
Budget: €807,000
Box office: N/A

IMDb entry
Rotten Tomatoes entry

Starring: Sakari Kuosmanen, Kati Outinen, André Wilms, Markku Peltola, Elina Salo, Ona Kamu, Outi Mäenpää, Tuire Tuomisto, Tatiana Soloviova, Esko Nikkari, Jaakko Talaskivi, Safka Pekkonen

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Synopsis


The movie is set during the 1970's but Juha and Marja look like they're living in the 50's if not earlier. Despite the fact that they seem to be behind the times, they're still happy. With city dweller Shemeikka's arrival, it brings a whole lot of changes. It also brings into question if these changes really benefit anyone. Marja becomes enamored with city life and conveniences which results in the once content couple becoming isolated from one another.

Review


For a silent movie to work, the music has to be top notch to keep things interesting. I'd say that Anssi Tikanmäki has succeeded in doing that. The score goes from being whimsical to sad and depressing throughout. Although there are a few sound effects here and there, the music is the primary sound that Juha has and it guides the story along perfectly.

Talkies and silent movies have different kinds of acting and Juha gets silent movie acting done right. There is however some modern sensibility in the way that the acting is not too exaggerated. When movies were still quite new and without sound, looking at a silent movie now can look like people playing charades but that isn't the case with Juha. I especially like André Wilms in his role and can see why Kaurismäki really wanted him as Shemeikka.

Kaurismäki has created a visually pleasing film with Juha. Even without colour, everything appears to be rich in detail and depth. The lighting is also a pretty big strength as well. In short, the mise-en-scène is well executed although that's no surprise really.

People these days seem to take a very hard stance against silent films. Every movie deserves a chance whether it's a talkie or a silent film though. Juha is the perfect movie to show these no silent film types the kind of power a silent film can have. I think that Juha has a few modern touches here and there that can ease anti-silent filmites into the genre. The Artist is still my favourite of the modern silent films that I've seen but Juha is a movie definitely worth watching.

Rating


7/10